For startups and small business with limited resources, marketing can be very scary and intimidating because too often, a lot of money is spent on marketing efforts that don’t produce results. Many business owners do not believe they can afford to market, especially when faced with the pressure to make right decision on what marketing tactic works best to reach their target customer. When marketing budgets are tight, smart business owners are always looking for inexpensive ways to get their product in front of a potential customer to increase awareness and sales.

Marketing does not have to be overly complicated or expensive to be effective. The first step, and we can’t stress this enough, is the importance of investing in a strategic marketing plan to ensure that you make the right decision when you spend your valuable marketing dollars. Next, look for inexpensive marketing tactics that you can use to save money while still following the strategy outlined in your marketing plan.

A customer tries a new restaurant and later tells friends by tweeting about it. Great customer experiences often result in recommendations or good reviews, both forms of word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth marketing is an affordable and organic way of spreading awareness of your business.  What’s not to love about a free form of advertisement that is shared by existing customers and recruits new customers!

I don’t need marketing, I use word of mouth

Often, new and small business owners react to the suggestion of marketing by saying “I don’t need marketing, my sales are all by word of mouth.” Actually, word of mouth marketing is legitimately an affordable, and often, very effective marketing tactic that small businesses can add to their marketing toolset. However, to successfully implement word of mouth marketing, businesses have to do more than passively rely on an exceptional customer experience to generate positive reviews. 

It is important to look at the many ways to use word of mouth marketing in order to increase its effectiveness as a marketing tactic for your organization. There are quite literally hundreds of methods for engaging customers using word of mouth marketing. Here are a few of the most common methods.

  • Recommendations
  • Referral programs
  • Partnership programs
  • Networking
  • Promotional Products
  • Social media mentions (hashtags, shares, comments)
  • Online Reviews
  • Influencer Marketing

Word of mouth marketing is possibly the single most effective method of word of mouth marketing for many companies. Forbes magazine has noted that 92% of consumers believe the word of friends and family over all other forms of advertising. You can view the article here >>  Now, let’s look a bit deeper at some ways you can word of mouth market at no to very minimal cost.


The most common form of word of mouth marketing is when customers recommend your product or service to fellow customers because they find your product/service a great choice. When you provide something of superior value to consumers, they are bound to talk about it. This can lead to new customers or increased purchases. This type of word of mouth marketing is organic, as it requires no to little expense on your part except for ensuring you are providing a great customer experience and proactively asking your customers their opinion.

Referral Programs

Neon Referral Program sign

A type of incentivized program, that if done right, requires very little associated cost up front. The basic premise of a referral program is this – if you refer me to a potential customer and they purchase, you get something in return. There are a number of different ways to incentivize referrals.

  • Offer a discount to the referring customer on their next purchase. While you are discounting your product, you are compensated by the acquisition of a new customer and a repeat purchase from the referring customer.
  • Offer a promotional item in appreciation for any referral purchases. With thousands of promotional items to choose from, cost can vary greatly. As a promotional product distributor, Murie Design Group can help you find just the right promotional product that will incent referrals from your customers.

Count on some cost up front for a referral program to help you get the word out about the program. You can accomplish this simply by a mention and distributing a flyer whenever you make a sale.  You could run an ad in a publication targeted towards your market. Or you could promote your referral program on social media. You can also send an email targeted for existing customers through a low-cost customer relationship management (CRM) tool, which we will talk more about a little later.

Partnership Programs


A variation on a referral program, partnership programs are typically set up between business entities and are mutually beneficial. Your first step is to identify a business or businesses that share your target customer but don’t directly compete with your product or service. Remember, if your marketing message isn’t getting to your potential customers, the partnership won’t really work for marketing to your target market.

Once you have located partner candidates, reach out and propose the partnership to see if they are open to such a relationship. You’ll not only need to understand what’s in it for you, you’ll need to communicate what’s in it for them as well to ensure it’s a partnership that will benefit both companies.

You should also consider the best method for tracking partner referrals. Ideas include tracking links for web traffic, proactively asking “how did you hear about us” from new clients, or simply communicating each referral as an introduction. The options are really endless for how to best track your partner referrals, what is important is that you do it consistently to ensure a mutually beneficial partner relationship.

There are a multitude of ways to broker an effective partnership program. Some examples, keeping in mind the theme of “Marketing on the Cheap”.

  • Guest blogging: Blog on partner websites about business-related topics that appeal to your common target markets and allow your partner(s) to do the same on your website in return.
  • Social media: Share social media posts and invite followers to follow each other’s social media.
  • Events: Host business events together where you and your partner(s) both have equal exposure to your common target audience. Educational seminars, luncheons, or even cocktail hours work well for these events.
  • Co-Branding: You might try co-branding an article together where the benefits you bring to your common target market are discussed. You could co-brand a product bundle where both of your products are sold together. You can also co-brand advertising that reaches your common target market.


Young business people at networking event

Networking, strictly speaking, involves a lot of socializing – getting yourself out there, shaking hands (or bumping feet), making introductions, and inviting people to lunch. The goal is to meet new contacts, explain what you do, and start building a professional foundation of trust. Networking can be accomplished through almost any social interaction but there’s a few things to keep in mind to make it more successful for your business.

  • Don’t expect a sale on the first meeting. People refer services and make purchases based on trust. During a first meeting in any business scenario, chances are that trust won’t be there yet. Make it your goal, initially, to get to know each other and save the sale for later.
  • It’s not about you. Don’t get into that frantic habit of trying to explain everything about yourself. Trust is built with empathy and understanding so do your best to ask questions and listen. If you catch yourself dominating the conversation, chances are you may be making it about you.
  • Read social cues. If you are talking with somebody and they begin to disengage, they stop asking questions, start checking their watch, or if they start to aim their feet towards the door, don’t panic. Remember, you can’t force relationships to happen quickly. Show that you are considerate of their time and it will provide a foundation for trust.

Networking seems free but there is a time cost and networking is not the most time efficient marketing tactic. Time is money and it oftentimes requires a lot of time to develop a new business relationship.

Meetup: offers a wide variety of networking opportunities, typically free of charge for attendees. Some do offer membership fees which vary. 

Talloo: Talloo is a networking group that is set up with topic-based small group meetups and large group events. This organization is based on making introductions and establishing social interaction. Free for group events, $29.99/month for exclusive discussion groups, and $499.99/mo for executive-level consultation and networking.

BNI: BNI is a lead generation based networking group. It is set up with chapters that are filtered heavily to prevent redundancy in business opportunities, for example, there can only be one accounting firm per chapter. Costs vary per chapter. Expect between $600.00 – $1,200.00 per year.

Chamber of Commerce: Between $275.00 and $675 per year depending on level of membership. 

Vistage: Vistage is a networking group targeted to CEO’s and small business owners. This group puts you in contact with other CEO’s, leaders, or small business owners to form relationships and brainstorm. CEO packages start with an enrollment price of $2,250.00 and a monthly membership fee of $1,380.00. Small business owner rates are slightly discounted from CEO rates. 

TIPS: TIPS is a more formalized networking opportunity provided by Chamber of Commerce organizations. These are smaller groups than chamber meetups and is geared towards lead generation. Monthly fees fall in the $35.00/month range. 

Promotional Products

Various promo items

Promotional products don’t usually strike people as WoM marketing, but it is indeed just that if done correctly. By giving customers or potential customers a promotional product branded with your brand, you turn your customers into walking billboards for your company. The key here is to focus on promotional items that will be shared, be used, and be visible such as hats, shirts, pens, flashlights, or other products that make sense for your brand and your customer. The promotional item market is vast, comprising literally hundreds of thousands of products. Just remember, a stress ball sitting in somebody’s desk drawer is not doing any marketing for your company. Costs be as low as cents per item and can be as high as you are willing to spend to gain a customer.

Social Media Mentions (hashtags, shares, comments)

Social media has the power to offer WoM marketing unparalleled to anything else available today. As a marketing channel, social media is one of the most powerful tools in existence with a reach that is unheard of in the history of promotion.

You can also use social media to manage ad placement but for this article, we want to focus on the organic spread of social media. The key to keeping cost low and getting a high ROI using social media as a WoM marketing tool is to promote engagement. Here are a few effective strategies to get the most out of social media as a WoM tool.

  • Use hashtags: Hashtags provide a clickable link that can feed directly to your product or service and can be an extremely effective reference tool.
  • Run contests on social media for desirable giveaways.
  • Post any promotion, discount, or sale for public viewing and sharing.
  • Post informative and engaging content that can be shared.
  • Post success stories about your product/service.

Remember to always post useful or entertaining content that inspires sharing. We don’t like to use “viral” because it is a term that is overused, but this is exactly what a viral campaign is about, engaging content to everyone wants to share.

Online Reviews

5 Star rating

Nowadays, online reviews can make or break a small company. Seldom do consumers make new purchases without investigating reviews. If you are afraid of what kind of reviews you going to get, you first need to revisit your customer experience. Always ensure your website and social media pages offer customers the opportunity to review your product or service. Additionally, make the communication of good reviews part of your overall communications strategy. And always respond publicly to poor reviews. Online reviews cost nothing and can be a great source of new customers for your business.

Influencer Marketing

camera taking picture of woman holding shoes for social media

Wikipedia defines influencer marketing as a form of social media marketing involving endorsements and product placement from influencers, people and organizations who have a purported expert level of knowledge or social influence in their field. Most influencers reside on YouTube but others can be found through product review sites and other forms of social media such as Instagram and Facebook. It can be tricky to navigate influencer marketing on the cheap, but with some work it can be accomplished.

Utilizing an influencer for marketing purposes may involve sending them a product to review online. This can be risky because if your product does not satisfy the influencer, it could result in a negative online presence. Make sure there is a safety net with your influencer, investigate their reputation, and make sure your customer experience is top notch.

Influencers can also be contracted for product or service mentions for a fee. Again, this can be expensive but through investigation, you can likely find influencers that will work within your budget. There are some key things to consider when utilizing influencer marketing.

  • Make sure that the influencer has a viewership that reflects your target market.
  • Try to utilize influencers with 1,000 viewers or more in order to maximize your marketing.
  • Utilize influencers who post consistently versus those that simply have a large number of followers.
  • Use a contract. While a lot of agreements can be reached in the business world with a handshake, you should protect yourself and a contract is the easiest way to do this and prevent any negative impact to your business.

These are just a few ways to use low-cost Word of Mouth marketing for your business. There are many other ideas out there and when it comes to WoM, the key thing to remember is that you must protect your reputation as you would your own life. While WoM marketing can be very effective, your reputation is what drives it and is the key to success and failure. For any questions on Word of Mouth marketing, feel free to reach out to me at